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Politics & Government

Affordable Care Act Could Take Center Stage in Johnson-Feingold Debate


Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold will go head-to-head Friday night in a debate in Green Bay. The two are locked in a tight contest, with a new poll showing just a two point differential. 

One issue that’s heated up just this week is national health care. The two candidates have differing plans for the future of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Ron Johnson has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Under it, millions of uninsured citizens have purchased health care plans through government-run exchanges. Johnson called the program a massive consumer fraud, at a hearing he chaired on Capitol Hill. He says ACA has not lived up to its promise of affordability.

“This Obamacare law is costing American taxpayers a whole lot of money. We all want people to be covered by health care. We all want people to have access to high quality insurance but we didn’t have to completely remake the insurance and health care markets to try to fill that gap,” Johnson says.

Johnson signed a pledge on Thursday, promising he’ll work to scrap ACA if he’s re-elected, and replace it with what he calls market-based reforms designed to reduce costs. He’s been hammering his opponent Russ Feingold, for helping to pass ACA when he was a senator. Johnson launched two ads this week.

At a recent stop in Milwaukee, Democrat Feingold defended his vote in favor of ACA. He says it has resulted in 20 million more Americans having health insurance, and Feingold called Johnson’s idea to scuttle ACA, a step backward.

“If Sen. Johnson had his wish, which is to repeal the health care bill, we would lose the ability of people to get health care coverage even though they have a pre-existing condition. This has been the leading thing I have heard from people about health care over the years,” Feingold says.

Feingold acknowledges the program has run into glitches. But he says if voters elect him, he’ll work to improve it.

“We can try to make the Affordable Care Act more attractive to more people in a way that would cause more people to take the Affordable Care Act. That would help some of those companies that are feeling skittish about staying in Obamacare right now. They’re saying they’re getting too many sick people and not enough well people,” Feingold says.

The Affordable Care Act has had its share of problems, according to Donna Friedsam of the UW-Madison School of Public Health. She says the biggest has been the expense.

“We’re seeing continual problems with the cost and price of health insurance and the cost of health care and this has been a challenge for decades in this country and the Affordable Care Act has not been able to solve this ongoing problem,” Friedsam says.

Friedsam says in addition, a major provider, Aetna, is dropping exchanges in 11 states, leaving some rural residents with few options. However, she says there have also been successes, including in Wisconsin.

“Because of ACA, the state has reduced its uninsured rate from over 9 percent to now 5.7 percent,” Friedsam says.

Christopher Murray of the Les Aspin Institute says like it or not, ACA is the law, making it hard to repeal.

“It may not be a perfect piece of legislation but it’s the reality and in fact, getting rid of it or doing something dramatically different would be incredibly disruptive and would actually make a lot of their jobs more difficult,” Murray says.

Murray notes that until now, the biggest issues in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race have been national security and the economy. But with Incumbent Ron Johnson turning up the heat on Russ Feingold, national health care may grab a front row seat in tonight’s debate.

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